In another of our regular board game spotlights, Zatu Games unfurls its optical stalks and affectionately caresses Twilight Struggle, the 2005 release from designers Ananda Gupta and Jason Matthews, and publisher GMT Games.
Though named for the unparalleled existential horror experienced by anyone over twelve who sits through Breaking Dawn, Twilight Struggle is actually a game about the Cold War. Two players take on the roles of either the US or the USSR and play through 45 years of history in an effort to spread their influence across the globe.
Often in games players are given a very loosely drawn character to anchor them in the experience. In a war game, maybe they’re a strategist; in a city builder, a town planner. Often, these characters aren’t elaborated beyond their title, but they’re a thematic way to give the player a sense of realistic purpose.
Where Twilight Struggle differs is in casting players as ideologies rather than people. The event cards used to play the game represent historical events of the period: Arab-Israeli conflicts, Vietnam, the Olympic Games. They can benefit either side, or both, and can be played for their unique effects or for the number of operation points (which allow you to spread influence) specified in the top corner. When a player decides how, or whether, to play a card, they are forced to ask themselves things like ‘Will this benefit Communism?’, which, to be fair, is the question all of us should ask ourselves before doing anything.
Holding influence over the countries of the world yields players victory points. When 1989 rolls around and the Cold War ends, the superpower with the most VPs wins, thus validating their political system as ‘proper great’ forever, as history has shown.
Ananda Gupta has only released one board game so far, and yet it was the top ranked board game of all time on BoardGameGeek from 2010 until the start of 2016. He has worked for ZeniMax and Firaxis.
Jason Matthews was Gupta’s playing partner when the latter playtested for GMT. Together, they decided that they had what it took to design a game themselves.
If you found the fall of the Berlin Wall to be a massive disappointment, relive the good old days and buy this game from Zatu!